The most recent Pew survey of religion in the United States, in which about 35,000 people were questioned, has resulted in some surprising findings. There are more Muslims in the US, and fewer individuals who affiliate with Christian denominations. Jewish affiliation has however, remained stable over the last seven years. Is the Judeo-Christian narrative in danger in the modern world? Is the growth of Muslim affiliation a threat to modernity? All of that is a discussion for another time.
For me the initial take away is a bit more subtle, complex and a lot more indicative of an upcoming sea change. It seems that we all have a belief system. We are all born with a need of one. There might even be a section of our brains that has evolved to require us to believe in something greater than us. For those of us with strong religious beliefs our religious affiliations serve that need. For agnostics their beliefs relate to the affiliation they have with agnosticism. But what about those who have no religious affiliation and are neither atheists nor agnostic? How do they fulfill their need for a belief? From the Pew survey results and a series of clinical evaluations and studies it appears that, younger people are affiliating with technology. Their primary belief is in social media and the vision of a wired future.
Technological advances promise the millenials, those born between the years 1982 to 1994, a future of amazing change and growth. There will be health care changes, educational innovations, software programs that will exponentially expand intelligence and a world of apps that have yet to be imagined. Yes in many ways, there are threats that this future vision comes with, some known and some yet to be discovered. Still, if you find your religion cumbersome and slow to adapt to the future, if you think that affiliation with a religion is an archaic, backward vision than there is no reason to keep your religion or any religion as a belief. Belief in technology that adapts to the future and grows with the new reality becomes your future.
I have been conducting an informal pilot study for just about a month now. With all the talk, and fear of the “half-Shabbat” phenomenon, where it is alleged that teens use their smart phones on Shabbat and holidays, I decided to ask teens about their phone use and their religious beliefs. Thus far I asked ten people between the ages of 14 and 16. I carefully selected those who are not already unaffiliated, have not been in trouble legally, come from loving and firmly religious families and do well in school. I asked them two questions: do they or their friends use their cell phones on Shabbat or holidays and, how religious they are.
Six of the teens actually gave me their phones to look at. They showed me their groups, text messages and Whatsapp groups. The large majority of them had used their phones on Saturdays. In one case, seven of 13 members accessed the Whatsapp group on most Saturdays. In another phone, I found that there were text messages from 14 different people. Virtually all the teens had the same response to the question about how religious they are. They had a variation on “I like my religion but it has to keep up with the times better. So I am as religious as I can be.”
I realize and believe that some things are simply immutable but many already find a dispensation to carry phones and there are reasons to allow others to use their phones. It is hard to explain the finer points to teenagers who are by nature defiant.
It is wake up time for religious leaders. Adapt or lose. The teens I have spoken with do not want to lose their religion but they may very well do so. In the near future kitchen appliances will be voice activated. Refrigerators will automatically communicate with supermarkets; lights will go on and off and adjust to the number of people in a room. One teen said to me “My father is a rabbi. I tell him all the time that he has to wake up or lose.” Profound words from the teen. I hope someone is listening.